You've probably heard the term collateral damage, but we don't often speak of collateral good. Collateral damage is harm that is unintended, but nonetheless a consequence of a particular course of action. That action may be well intentioned and may actually be a good thing in terms of its intended purpose. Or, it could be totally reckless and ill conceived. Either way, the damage or harm that results may or may not be anticipated. It may be deemed unfortunate but unavoidable – the price one must pay to accomplish something of value. Despite the harm to an individual or group, perhaps the (elusive) common good is served. Or so we will be led to believe.
Collateral good, on the other hand, is a benefit that's unintended – a byproduct of something done for another purpose. What man intends for evil, God may intend for good. A silver lining. Something that may not be immediately apparent – and in fact, may only be seen in retrospect. But nonetheless, something good that wasn't the stated objective or the main event.
I consider myself an evangelical Christian in that I want my life to count for something in the kingdom of God. At least I don't want to be a disgrace. I want to live honestly and justly. I want to live out my faith in such a way that others might be stirred to consider their own relationship with God – their faith or lack of faith - and even make a decision to actively and consciously pursue truth, wherever that might lead.
I acknowledge that my understanding of God is limited – pitifully so I think at times. I feel most unqualified to lead anyone into a relationship with Christ, though I believe that such a relationship is the fulcrum of my own life, and of world history, for that matter.
My faith cannot be reduced to a logical and rational set of presuppositions. Faith isn't something we PROVE - rather, it's something that we live. It captures us and carries us in spite of ourselves. It's profoundly personal - a complex tapestry of events and experiences and emotions and - for me, at least - questions and confusion. I DON'T have it all figured out. And I don't regret that - not a bit. Actually, I thrive on the uncertainties. I love the mystery of God. I recklessly - perhaps - accept the sovereignty of God, though I have absolutely no verifiable, incontrovertible evidence that God even exists.
And out of the depths of my being, I am more and more convinced that the entire goal of my faith and of my very being is to live fully and vibrantly within this "cloud of unknowing", with no purpose at all other than to seek God and his kingdom. I'm learning to accept that that pursuit - that effort to catch up with a God who is often illusive and almost always unpredictable - is personal, yes - but there may also be a more public aspect.
There are collateral effects - people around me may be impacted, positively or negatively, by my attitudes and actions. My behavior - my lifestyle - has an impact on the environment and that in turn, affects people around the world. I trust and pray that I am doing more good than harm - that I'm not reckless with other people's lives and beliefs. No matter what my convictions are, I must leave room for God to speak and to act in other people's lives as he will, remembering that he is far better acquainted with their particular questions and issues than I will ever be.
Some people distrust "evangelicals" because they do not wish to be preached at or hounded into any posture of "faith". Life is complex, puzzling and painful for many people and no matter how well intentioned we might be in our efforts to bring them into a relationship with Christ, it seems to me that we often incur collateral damage in the process if we forge ahead with single minded determination to "bring them in". On the other hand, when we are content to live out our faith with a genuine attitude of hopefulness and humility and hospitality, perhaps we do more collateral good than we are aware of.
Perhaps evangelism is the divine fruit of our mundane obedience to the command that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33).